Since Joe Nocera in today’s NYT puts it better than I can right now, I’m running (below) part of his response to the egregious Bernard Henri-Levy‘s hysterical crowing about l’affaire DSK (Strauss-Kahn was dragged “lower than the gutter,” his treatment was “pornographic,” perfidious America etc). Ironically, BHL’s screed was published the same day his dear, maligned, noble friend DSK was charged with another count of attempted rape in France, where his accuser, indisputably white and part of the same privileged upper-class elite, described his behavior as that of “a chimpanzee in rut.”
BHL is outraged — outraged! — that New York District Attorney Vance took the word of a mere hotel maid over that of an esteemed member of the French establishment. He also blithely ignores the DNA evidence and the maid’s injuries, assuming that if she had lied in the past, on her asylum application, she must of necessity be lying now.
(Word of warning to all women: never tell a lie in case you get raped, because we all know that it’s impossible for women who lie to be raped.)
Nocera rightly calls out BHL on his elitism. And takes pride in the fact that the case is in jeopardy not because of DSK’s multi-millionaire lawyers, but because of the hard work of DA Vance’s horribly underpaid team.
It’s just a pity Nocera’s piece didn’t run yesterday, Independence Day:
I can’t see what Vance did wrong. Quite the contrary. The woman alleged rape, for crying out loud, which was backed up by physical (and other) evidence. She had no criminal record. Her employer vouched for her. The quick decision to indict made a lot of sense, both for legal and practical reasons. Then, as the victim’s credibility crumbled, Vance didn’t try to pretend that he still had a slam dunk, something far too many prosecutors do. He acknowledged the problems.
Lévy, himself a member of the French elite, seems particularly incensed that Vance wouldn’t automatically give Strauss-Kahn a pass, given his extraordinary social status. Especially since his accuser had no status at all.
But that is exactly why Vance should be applauded: a woman with no power made a credible accusation against a man with enormous power. He acted without fear or favor. To have done otherwise would have been to violate everything we believe in this country about no one being above the law.
As for Strauss-Kahn’s humiliation, clearly something very bad happened in that hotel room. Quite possibly a crime was committed. Strauss-Kahn’s sordid sexual history makes it likely that he was the instigator. If the worst he suffers is a perp walk, a few days in Rikers Island and some nasty headlines, one’s heart ought not bleed. Ah, yes, and he had to resign as the chief of an institution where sexual harassment was allegedly rampant, thanks, in part, to a culture he helped perpetuate. Gee, isn’t that awful?
The point is this: We live in a country that professes to treat everyone equally under the law. So often we fall short. The poor may go unheard; the rich walk. Yet here is a case that actually lives up to our ideal of who we like to think we are. Even the way the case appears to be ending speaks to our more noble impulses. Vance didn’t dissemble or delay or hide the truth about the victim’s past. He did the right thing, painful though it surely must have been.
To judge by his recent writings, Bernard-Henri Lévy prefers to live in a country where the elites are rarely held to account, where crimes against women are routinely excused with a wink and a nod and where people without money or status are treated like the nonentities that the French moneyed class believe they are.
I’d rather live here.
Making the same point: Peter Beinart in today’s Daily Beast.